COMMENTS: Tiptoe Through the Poppies

A trio of overseas stories was filed--on Afghanistan, Sudan and China.

NBC's Mark Mullen was waiting in Hong Kong for the parade of the torch en route to the Beijing Olympic Games. It was greeted by "tens of thousands of cheering spectators in a sea of patriotic red." It amounted to "a massive pep rally" to counteract the protests against the People's Republic's policies on Tibet and human rights that torch had encountered outside China. "Many Chinese, who mobilized counterprotests, took it personally."

Sami al-Hajj, a TV news cameraman for al-Jazeera, was flown home to Sudan by the US military after six years of incarceration at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. ABC's Jonathan Karl recounted that al-Hajj, who was taken prisoner while covering the war in Afghanistan in 2001, had been suspected by the Pentagon variously of supporting guerrillas in Chechnya, of being a cash courier for "an associate" of Osama bin Laden and of having "distributed terrorist propaganda" online--suspected "but never charged." After his last year on hunger strike, al-Hajj is being allowed to go home on condition that the Khartoum regime "keep an eye on him to make sure he does not commit any terrorism." Karl noted that this was an "odd" condition, since Sudan has been branded by the United States as "a state sponsor of terrorism."

For the second straight day, NBC's Jim Maceda filed from Afghanistan's Helmand Province, where he is embedded with a Marine Corps unit as it fights the Taliban. Thursday Maceda narrated scenes from a five hour firefight. Now he follows patrols as it tiptoed through "fields rich with poppy." The USMC is under orders not to harm the $4bn-a-year opium crop since destroying it "would only play into the Taliban's propaganda and further anger Afghans."


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